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Political Science: Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly Popular Sources

Select print and web based resources for researching Political Science

Scholarly Vs. Non-Scholarly Popular Sources Video Tutorial

Scholarly vs. Non-Scholarly "Popular Sources" Whats the Difference?

Scholarly or popular sources

"Scholarly" or "popular" are terms used to describe a source's content, purpose, audience, appearance, citations and more. Popular sources are useful for getting ideas for a topic or for background and anecdotal information.

Typically, however, you should support your arguments by citing scholarly articles, which contain original research written by experts . Ask the Librarian or your instructor if you're unsure about a source.

Many article databases that the library subscribes to allow you to limit your results to scholarly sources.

Scholarly sources:

  • original research published in journals
  • written by experts in the field
  • are usually peer-reviewed (evaluated by other experts in the same field)
  • include citations
  • usually are longer, 5 or more pages

Popular sources:

  • general interest stories which may refer to research but do not contain original research
  • written by the general public
  • are not peer-reviewed
  • rarely include citations
  • tend to be shorter, about 200 words to a few pages

Some points to remember:

  • Both magazine and journal articles can be good sources for your work. 
  • When selecting articles, think about how you intend to use the information: 
    • Do you want background on a topic new to you? (use magazines)  
    • Did your teacher say to cite scholarly resources? (use journals)  
  • Often a combination of the two will be most appropriate for undergraduate research. 

Primary Vs. Secondary Sources

PRIMARY SOURCE is a document or physical object which was written or created during the time under study. These sources were present during an experience or time period and offer an inside view of a particular event. Some types of primary sources include:

  • ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS (excerpts or translations acceptable): Diaries, speeches, oral histories, manuscripts, letters, interviews, news film footage, autobiographies, official record, newspaper ads/stories
  • CREATIVE WORKS: Poetry, drama, novels, music, art, photographs
  • RELICS OR ARTIFACTS: Pottery, furniture, clothing, buildings

Examples of primary sources include:

  • Diary of Anne Frank - Experiences of a Jewish family during WWII
  • The Constitution of Canada - Canadian History
  • A journal article reporting NEW research or findings
  • Weavings and pottery - Native American history
  • Plato's Republic - Women in Ancient Greece

SECONDARY SOURCE interprets and analyzes primary sources. These sources are one or more steps removed from the event. Secondary sources may have pictures, quotes or graphics of primary sources in them. Some types of seconday sources include:

  • PUBLICATIONS: Textbooks, magazine articles, histories, criticisms, commentaries, encyclopedias 

Examples of secondary sources include:

  • A journal/magazine article which interprets or reviews previous findings
  • A history textbook
  • A book about the effects of WWI
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